UT Explores East Tennessee, Bulgarian Culture

KNOXVILLE — A University of Tennessee program is helping students here and abroad gain more knowledge and appreciation of their own roots by exploring other cultures.

UT and Bourgas Free University in Bulgaria have launched “My Place, Your Place and Our Place,” a two-year, $195,000 project funded by the U.S. Department of State.

Dr. Gerald Ubben, project director and UT professor of education administration, said local educators visited Bulgarian schools in July, and now are hosting 10 Bulgarian teachers here.

Teachers from both countries have created an Internet-based curriculum in which their students discuss local issues, government, and other topics, Ubben said.

“Students in the “My-Your-Our Place” model learn about their own culture by interpreting it to students in Bulgaria and vice versa,” Ubben said. “They will learn about their own government, environment, etc. by comparing them with that of their partner country.

“When students in Bulgaria learn about the lev or the Euro in the local economy, they will also learn about the dollar in Tennessee, and so on.”

Cosby High School, Norris Elementary School, Central High School in Wartburg, Knox County School System, and William Blount High School in Maryville are participating locally.

The grant funds computers for students and exchange visits for educators who will design curriculum and teach courses on the program at both universities.

Dr. Glenda Ross, program coordinator, said the program could help stop “brain drain” caused by young people leaving their local areas.

“Many similarities exist between Tennessee and Bulgaria, both emerging from economic struggles and isolation,” Ross said. “In Bulgaria and rural East Tennessee, educational and economic success is often measured by how far graduates of local schools can distance themselves from home. This ‘brain drain’ threatens economic and cultural sustainability.

“The MYO Place model will offer students the skills to succeed in the global place while affirming the value of the home place, encouraging students to stay, return, or maintain connections to sustain their home economy and culture.”

Ubben said the program also helps youths understand the concept of globality and the importance of their culture.

“In the eyes of a child isolated by economic, political, or geographical barriers, the terms ‘the world’ and ‘global’ are often too big to understand,” Ubben said.

“Paradoxically, these same children may not understand or even realize they are part of a local culture that has a legitimate and valuable place in the world of cultures.

“The MYO Place curriculum will create a laboratory for the students to compare ‘My Place’ with ‘Your Place’ and from there develop skills for success in global cultures, environments, and work, or ‘Our Place.’ ”